Anzac Day in the Pacific

Page 4 – Present day commemorations

In the new millennium there has been increasing interest in the story of Pacific Island involvement in the First World War.

In the Cook Islands there have been efforts to rebuild memorials and honour boards. In Aitutaki and Mauke new memorials have been planned or built and on Pukapuka the honour board, damaged in the 2005 cyclone season, has been replaced. A new memorial has been built on Atiu and in Rarotonga the removal of the honour board from the courthouse to the Pioneers’ Lounge in the RSA clubrooms proved timely when the courthouse was gutted by fire in 1991. The National Library in Avarua plans to mount an exhibition on Cook Islanders’ involvement in the First World War.

A resurgence of interest in Niue has been spearheaded by the local RSA. A permanent exhibition at the Huanaki Cultural Centre in Alofi was opened in 1999 but was lost when the museum complex was destroyed by Cyclone Heta in 2004.  Included in the exhibition had been the last surviving panels of the honour board constructed in 1926.

In 2000 there were four village memorials in Niue. The Mutalau memorial built in 1947 was followed by Hakupu in 1987, Avatele in 1993 and Tuapa in 1998. By 2010 there were new memorials in Liku, Lakepa, Hikutavake and Tamakautoga, and in Alofi the National Memorial, as it is now called, had been rebuilt.

In each village the emphasis is on displaying the names of all local men who served in the First World War. Such memorials provide a focal point for commemoration and place the names in public view. Niue does not have cemeteries. Burials take place on family land, usually in the bush interior of the island. Even the official headstones that were given to a minority of returned servicemen are not publicly accessible.

In addition to services on Niue, the Niuean men are now commemorated in services in Auckland, the main centre of Niuean population in New Zealand. Organisations linked to the villages of Mutalau and Hakupu hold Anzac ceremonies in Auckland each year. Men from the Niue Contingent lie buried in Auckland cemeteries. A few died there while enlisted and others moved to Auckland in later years. By holding commemoration services for their own people, Niuean elders in Auckland are encouraging younger Niueans born in New Zealand to embrace their history.

In 2002, when a Niuean team participated in the Commonwealth Games for the first time, a unique reunion took place in Manchester. The people of Hornchurch, where the Niuean men were hospitalised in 1916 prior to their return to New Zealand, invited the Niuean team to visit them. After a church service a memorial service was held in the church cemetery where four Niuean men are buried. It was the first such pilgrimage by a Niuean group to a location central to their own war story.

With increasing interest in and focus on the Pacific Island involvement in the First World War, there has been an effort to improve the accuracy of information relating to the Pacific Islanders who served in the NZEF and to correct the misspelling and omission of names. Anzac Day programmes in New Zealand, in particular on Māori Television, and exhibitions at Te Papa Tongarewa and the Auckland War Memorial Museum, are beginning to highlight the Pacific contribution for the first time.